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I have been pondering recently what helps me to sleep at night.  Or, conversely, what prevents me from sleeping at night.  This is different than the calls in the middle of the night or the cell phone buzzing wildly on the nightstand from database or system generated alerts.  There are work related stresses and there are stresses unrelated to work that can contribute to how well one sleep’s.

For me, a few things keep me restless through the night.  Some of these might be an unsolved problem at work, flood of thoughts just as I am trying to wind down for the night, or even stewing over (contemplating)  a particular event of the day.  How do I resolve these issues and get past the sleeplessness?  I have to do something different for each one.  I will discuss in detail, in no particular order, these techniques that work for me (with relative success).

Solve the Problem

It sounds pretty simple and straightforward.  It doesn’t matter how complex the issue truly is, I have to reach some level of satisfaction and resolution so that I can rest.  I don’t like to leave things undone, unsolved, or at a less than desirable break point.  My wife says I am like a dog with a bone about things like that.  I like to be able to devote my attention to the moment.  If a project or task is left in an undesirable state, I end up being distracted by it’s incompleteness.

Solving the problem can be as painless as jotting down some notes.  It can be as painful as not sleeping for a couple of days.  Whatever it takes, get your mind at peace with your tasks.  This doesn’t necessarily mean work tasks.  This can apply to personal life tasks as well.

Drain the Brain

When flooded with a deluge of thoughts just as you lay down, (or worse, when you awaken in the middle of the night) – get them out of your head and down on paper.  By writing down as many thoughts as I can, I stop thinking about them and rest peacefully.  Just braindump out to paper or to the laptop or something.  It doesn’t matter what the thoughts are (usually it is a list of things that I need to give more attention to over the coming days), just get them written.  By writing out the thoughts, they are less likely to be forgotten.  You give yourself an opportunity to relax knowing that there is a plan of attack for each of those thoughts that kept you awake.

This is a technique that I have heard about using since I was in high school.  It is something I am told that writers tend to use.  I hadn’t realized how useful it was until just a few nights ago.  It is something that I have employed from time to time.  However, lately I have had a lot more work to do and a lot more projects that tie directly into my time.   This particular night, I was somewhat fatigued but very restless.  Pages of thoughts came flooding in.  I decided that I could either sit there and figure them out, or go and write them out as I have done in the past.  Once they were all written down – zonk.  Less than five minutes and I was out.

Act Honorably

I am throwing this one in because it is sometimes said “I wonder how he sleeps at night.”  This is usually in reference to something somebody has done that may seem questionable.  Did you say something offensive?  Did you really screwup at work?  Did you act with respect, honor, and dignity?  Was there something left unsaid or said that left you puzzled and needing answers?

When dealing with co-workers, forums, professionals, family and friends, one needs to act and speak with consistency.  By keeping the story straight and telling the truth in all scenarios, it helps to sleep at night.  If ever found to be at fault for something, owning up to it quickly helps to alleviate stress that may prevent sleep.  More than that though, is how you treat your fellow human beings.  Treating others how you would prefer to be treated is a great sleep-aid.  Apologize when necessary, give credit where credit is due, and treating others with kindness and respect go a long way to a good nights rest.

Work it Out

This one is simple too.  I think it ties in well with the others.  It is why I am writing this currently.  I was thinking about something I wanted to do.  That was to write a blog post due to some recent events that made me ponder the topic.  So, what am I doing – I am working out this blog post, writing down my thoughts and solving the problem.  This one can be equated differently for different scenarios.  For me, sometimes it simply means drawing up a more detailed plan/ outline based on the thoughts that have been written.  By devising a plan and organizing thoughts into something more meaningful, I am able to assure myself that I have done something positive about the situation.


So why did I want to cover this topic?  I have found myself working later into the evenings working on trying to accomplish goals as well as work projects.  And then after those late evenings, I sometimes find myself continuing to ponder some of the goals or projects.  The worst is dreaming about an unsolved problem at work.  I have also been thinking about professional conduct in an online world.  These are the kinds of things that can be avoided with a little preparation, forethought, and action.


Posted by Steve Jones on 17 February 2010

Excellent post. Makes sense and it's good advice, especially the writing it down. If you don't like writing, and have a willing spouse/friend, you can also talk it through.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 17 February 2010

Thanks Steve.

Posted by maguilar 90506 on 18 February 2010

Good article - I can completely relate, especially with the "Solve the Problem" paragraph.  Unfortunately, my idea of "some level of satisfaction" is kind of high, causing 60-70 hour work weeks. :P

Posted by Eddie on 18 February 2010

I have lost track of the number of times I have fallen asleep with an unsolved technical problem and the solution has come to me in the morning--usually in the shower. I think it has something to do with the batch processing that takes place while I sleep. Because of this, I usually have no problem falling asleep when an unsolved technical issue is looming. Sometimes I'll have a solution to a problem before leaving work but still like to "sleep on it" before proceeding.

Posted by WayneS on 18 February 2010

Nice post Jason. Dreaming about things can be your minds way of subconsiously solving problems... I find it helpful to leave pen/paper or digital recorder to jot down those thoughts if I wake up during the night.

Posted by Steve J on 18 February 2010

Great article. I personally do not have a problem falling asleep when there is an unresolved problem. Mine is the waking at 1, 2 or even 3 in the morning because the resolution hit. I can't get back to sleep until I get up and fix it. Afterwards, I sleep like a baby.

Posted by Matt on 18 February 2010

Great advice!!!

My solutions tend to happen on the ride home as I am not awake enough in the morning :).  On the ride home from work I am often still mulling over the big issues just not in a intensive bang head on table fashion :).  

The writing part I always try but putting it on paper seems to be a challenge for me. I tend to take a issue and come up with 10 high level steps or how ever many I can in a few minutes to resolve (attempt) before I stop. This gives me a plan and then I at least have a starting point when I return and don't fret over it.

Another thing that will help you sleep is just basic care during those times when you have a big issue.  Know when you work the best and try if possible to take them on at those times.  For me, 10am is the optimum time to take on or tackle a tough or intensive task, or return to it.  Your awake and not overly tired.  Hold off on big lunches and maybe light snacks if it gets near lunch.  Full stomach drains energy and makes you tired which as we all know reduces the speed and efficiency of thought.   Watch the food and drinks you’re having at these times as some also slow you down faster.  A good snack is pre-cut/pre-peeled carrots which also add as a distraction (chewing), oranges and things you have to peel would give you a break from intensive thought and relax a bit while still working and does not take much time.  Sometimes these are not possible :).

I don't care how big the issue is sometimes you need to take a step away.  Sometimes you need to just sit in a room with another person and think out loud even if they don't understand.  Just hope the other person understands your just thinking out loud :).

Sorry for the length :) you just got me going.



Posted by Jason Brimhall on 18 February 2010

Eddie - That is an excellent point.  Sometimes I can do that knowing that I think better after a good sleep.  

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 18 February 2010

sjimmo - I run into that from time to time as well.  If I wake up thinking about a problem after having gotten to sleep - I won't be able to go back to sleep until it is solved.

Great point.

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 18 February 2010

Thanks Matt - you have some excellent points as well

Posted by Marcio Silveira on 18 February 2010

It has taken me some time to perfect it, but I defined a certain time of the day, usually in the last 10 minutes before I go to bed, where I start to "empty my brain", and only focus on the task at hand: sleep. My get-ready routine includes making sure that the temperature is right, the bed and pillows are comfortable, the kids are ok and my night-reading is done. Funny enough, I don't sleep well if those tasks aren't done, but once my brain is satisfied that the routine is complete, then I'm out...

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 18 February 2010

Thanks Marcio.  That is a really good option as well - Nail down a routine.  We use routines on our kids to teach them to go to bed and sleep - same principle works on adults.

Posted by Satnam Singh on 18 February 2010


Posted by kcarlin on 22 February 2010

Great post.  I plan to begin using some of these items to help with my own sleep.


Posted by Nicholas Cain on 25 February 2010

I used to have the same thing happen to me as does Matt, stuff would come to me on the drive home. As it was taking me about 2 hours to get home on a regular day I had lots of time for things to come to me.

Something I'd recommend is getting a small digital recorder and leave it in the car, or carry one in your pocket, this way, when those ideas hit you there is the opportunity to dictate them into the recorder so you can jot them down later.

Posted by john.delahunt on 16 March 2010

Like matthew, I often get ideas on how to solve problems on the way home.  My solution for getting them out of my head is to send myself an email from home to work as soon as I get through the door.  Not only is is dumped from my brain, but there's a built-in reminder when I arrive at work.

Many solutions also come to me during my morning shower for some reason.  

Sometimes, even when there's no current problem to solve, I have what I call "code dreams".  My subconscience can really dig deep into the code at times.

Even during the work day concentration can be an issue.  When the tiny tasks start to accumulate, write a list.  Once they are on paper you can concentrate on one item at a time.  Or even deal with the next off-list issue that comes up with a clear mind.

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